Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. – Maya Angelou
This marked my first trip out of the country, so it was very special for me and Bhutan certainly lived up to the expectations. It is as alien as it is familiar, it is a foreign country but gives you the feel of home as well. So, here’s how it went…
Has it ever happened to you? You reach the Gate Number as listed on your boarding pass just on time only for it to change to the gate that is at the opposite end of the Airport and you run and when you are almost halfway there, the announcer changes the Gate Number again? No? Well, it happened to us. So, we settled in the flight and for my delight it had a number of empty seats, so there was only one thing to be done in that case, Photography!
You can see Mt Kanchenjunga in the above pictures.
We also witnessed the region of North East India that has been hit by the massive flood.
After 2 hours and 20 minutes, we landed at Paro Airport, one of the magnificent airports in the world, while landing, the plane has to descent between two mountains on each side and it’s enough to give you an adrenaline rush.
Our travel agent was waiting outside the airport with the car, and we were transported to Thimphu directly. On the way, we noticed things that were astonishing, even though the country is in Himalayan range and has the looks of Indian hill stations, the air is pure, architecture is orderly and the roads are clean and there is no traffic on the road and no one honks! People are so diligent and patient. Taxis and shops are run by women and everyone is dressed in the national dresses, Gho for men and Kira for women and every citizen has to wear them during official hours. There are no traffic lights in the city and traffic is manually controlled by Traffic Police. We had the whole evening to explore markets ourselves.
Found some cool things for souvenirs
Woke up early as we had to collect the travel permit for Punakha from Thimphu office and it can’t be obtained from any other place. We went down to have breakfast only to know that we didn’t order it last night, so nothing was prepared and the raw material was also finished. There, we came to know that even though it is the capital city, people lead a simple and leisure life here. All the shops or restaurant opens after 10AM, so we had to starve for like another 3 hours. Luckily, it was a weekday, thus, at least we got our permit. From there, we covered Thimphu Chorten, Buddha Dordenma Statue, National Folk Heritage Museum, Takin National Reserve, Tashichho Dzong and National Library.
One thing that I really liked about Bhutan is that they have found a way of sustainable development, they are very close to nature and believe in traditional methods of living which results in minimum wastage of resources, conservation of environment. They don’t have big industries and major source of their income is Tourism and Handicrafts.
One way of reducing and reusing the plastic bottle waste
They don’t believe in GDP (Gross Domestic Product), instead they measure their growth by GNH (Gross National Happiness), it is a measure of how happy or satisfied the citizens of the country are. Bhutanese people keep themselves busy in religious activities in order to avoid greed, jealousy, and cravings as these are the three root evils of Buddhism and it is the most prominent religion of the country. Thus, they maintain order, harmony and happiness among each other and towards nature. They have maintained the forest coverage of 72% of the total land area and thus is the only country in the world to have Zero Carbon Emission.
So, after covering all the places and gaining a proper insight into the Buddhism and Bhutanese way of life, we went to a bar to check the young and modern life of the natives. Going to a bar in Bhutan is an amazing experience in itself, the singers sing songs ranging from Nepali, Bhutanese folk songs and old Hindi songs from 80s or 90s. All the performers have day jobs, they don’t get paid for playing music, they just gather on the stage to flame the passion of music. It is such a good place to make new contacts and friends.
The guy above had a telecom shop next to our hotel
Today, we left Thimphu and drove to Punakha, passing the beautiful Dochu La on the way. It was covered in clouds and was drizzling all around, it was one of the most loveliest sight and it felt awesome to be there. In winters, it is covered in snow, that makes it more beautiful.
We also went to the Punakha Dzong (fortress), it is a spot where two rivers Mo Chhu (mother) and Pho Chhu (father) meet. You can also spot the Elephant Hill behind the Dzong in the above picture.
Another place that we went to was Chimi Lhakhang (infertility monastery), couples who can’t have kids go there and seek blessings to have children. There are many cards with names and a couple can even get the name of the kid predicted. The temple and near village has houses covered in Phallus decorations, and it is their belief that putting erect penises on the outside of their doors would drive evil eye or malicious gossips away from their household.
We drove back to Paro via Dochu La and Thimphu and stopped by a local farmer’s market to buy some fruits and vegetables. All of the farming in Bhutan is organic and Food Corporation of Bhutan is very strict about using chemicals in food or drink items. The wine or beer that is sold in Bhutan is also made by 100% organic fermenting methods.
During this long drive and frequent changing of temperature and altitude, two of our candidates got fever. So, we left them at hotel in Paro to rest and made our way to Chele La- it is the pass between Paro and Haa Valley, is 3988 metres above sea level is located at around 40 km from Paro.
As we sat there, having tea and Maggi, one spectacular thing happened, the clouds thinned to reveal the whole valley and it is certainly one of the most memorable moments of my life so far.
Upon returning, we went to National Museum of Bhutan, another thing that I noticed is photography is not allowed on the inside of the premises anywhere in Bhutan, be it museum or temple or monastery or Dzong or even shops. I am quite disappointed by that. Other thing we came to know that basic healthcare and education is free for the citizens of Bhutan and private practices are not allowed, all of them have to serve His Majesty’s office. Smoking is banned throughout the country.
All the walking, stair-climbing done on previous days was preparation for this day. We went to Paro Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche, the one who introduced Buddhism in Bhutan, flew there on the back of a tigeress and meditated there for around 3 years. It is a sacred place and is a group of around 13 temples and is situated at 10250 ft above the sea level. To reach there, first we had to drive for about 10 km from Paro, then had to trek for about 7 km, the trek is a little bit difficult and after you complete around 6 km, you have to take a staircase consisting of 800 steps to reach the temple.
Tiger’s Nest in all it’s glory
During our descent, we came across some delightful people, some were Chinese, some were Koreans, some from Bangladesh as well and locals too. To see everyone working together to reach the starting point safely was amazing, our language or ethnicity was different, but since we had the same goal, all of us were aligned and were in harmony. Something can be learned from this, I will leave it for the reader.
After Taktsang, we went to Paro market and did some souvenir shopping and even bought some groceries like Red Rice and Koka etc. and I was interested in buying a lunch basket but couldn’t find one with the cover, so had to leave it out. Lastly, we visited the lighting of Paro Dzong, which was amazing in itself.
We arrived at airport early in the morning and said our goodbyes to the travel agent/driver that we hired. He was a great company for the trip and was a very resourceful person. We landed in Delhi at around noon after circling in air for about 20-25 minutes because of air traffic and after spending an hour in Delhi, I became irritated by the traffic and the noise from all the honking and my face had new pimples. I was finally home.
Things that would be of help if you decide to go to Bhutan :
- Indian Currency is acceptable everywhere, 1 INR = 1 NU, but they don’t accept the currency note of 2000.
- Get a local SIM for your phone as soon as you land, it’ll be very helpful, trust me.
- Washrooms don’t have toilet seat water-jets, so make use of Toilet Paper.
- Wi-Fi in most places don’t work, so be prepared to use your data pack.
- Order breakfast before having dinner, otherwise you’ll spend the next day starving.
- Shops and hotels don’t open up until 10AM in Thimphu, so keep some spare snacks with you at all times.
- Some restaurants don’t add anything in the running order, so figure out beforehand, what and how much you want to eat.
- Shop for gifts in Thimphu instead of Paro, it is cheaper in the capital.
In the end, I would say that Bhutan is a great country and if there is a heaven, it would be somewhere in Bhutan. You will not find any fast food chains or shopping malls there, all the stuff available in the market is hand made and food is pure. If other countries can manage to be 10% of what Bhutan is, I would say that humanity will survive far much longer. Commercialization and Globalization has not hit Bhutan yet, and I hope it never will.
And if you want to have a great trip like us, either luxurious or budgeted, contact the following, they won’t disappoint. They will provide and arrange everything, just drop a query mail –
Deepak – 07679461287 / 08670786321
Prahlad – 07577346122